Studies in History

Christine Linehan was the long-serving executive editor of the Royal Historical Society’s Studies in History series, a role which – as her following account suggests – covered a wide range of duties, all of which focused, one way or another, on establishing and then maintaining a series that won wide acclaim for its excellence and which offered invaluable opportunities to early-career academics.

The War of Words by Luke Blaxill

The final volume in the Royal Historical Society’s Studies in History was published early this year (The War of Words: The Language of British Elections, 1880-1914), bringing to an end almost forty years of a series of almost two hundred titles which has launched the careers of many distinguished scholars. I have looked after the series for most, though not quite all, of those years, and looking back as, effectively, the ‘memory’ of the series, it has been quite a journey. When we began it was traditional typescripts, typewriters, a fairly basic printing job with minimal marketing and promotion, no jackets, definitely no pictures, rudimentary indexes and dull, dull grey covers. Nothing like the highly skilled, un-fussed and friendly, professional organisation with which Boydell & Brewer has supported us, and the beautifully produced and designed books, frequently illustrated, that they are so expert at. We have been privileged to be published by them and I to work with them.

Studies in History was a personal initiative of Sir Geoffrey Elton in 1975, with the aim of helping young scholars to have their work published at a time when it was particularly difficult to publish a first book, and at the same time to give them the academic and professional publishing support that they needed in turning what was usually a doctoral thesis into a work which would be accessible to a wider public. That is no easy task.

And this has been the outstanding feature of the series. Initially closely supervised by GRE who conducted editorial meetings with his usual mixture of rigorous academic standards, strongly held views of the right way to ‘do’ history and immense concern for young historians (he saved his combativeness for his contemporaries), it passed after his death into the care of Martin Daunton, David Eastwood, John Morrill and finally Mike Braddick and Vanessa Harding. Throughout, numbers of experienced academics have been members of the editorial board, have brought what they saw as worthy authors to the board’s attention and have then generously given their time and experience – guiding authors through numerous drafts of their books, helping them to widen and contextualise their arguments, not to speak of advising on the arcane subject of doing footnotes correctly. We have had our share of difficult authors, near-disasters, inevitable when dealing with novices, but overall there has been little other than warm praise and appreciation, and a lot of excellent reviews. A measure of the value of the series is that in a number of years every single author whom we published was successful in rapidly securing a university post.

Conquest and Land in Ireland by John Cunningham

The series has, of course, had its tricky moments. When GRE’s original publisher – or rather printer in the East End of London – was gobbled up by a much larger operation which found academic publishing a complete mystery, and anyway the machines were falling to bits; Geoffrey rapidly decided that this would not do and we spent a long summer trudging around London talking to any number of London publishers before Richard Barber came to the rescue. There were the RAE/REF years when the workload pretty nearly defeated us; authors who failed to deliver or who delivered at twice the word-length and thought that was fine, and perhaps we could publish it in two volumes?; non-native speakers whose charming English was nonetheless not English and whose work had to be rewritten line by line; perhaps we are fortunate that the series came to an end before it needed to cope with lockdown.

The series contained books across the full breadth of the discipline and by no means confined itself to UK scholars; we have published authors from Canada to Australia, from Japan to Israel to the US.

It is invidious to pick out too many individual authors who have gone on to outstanding careers, but one can perhaps mention Wendy Davies and Rosamond McKitterick from the early years of the series, or Alex Walsham some time later. Interesting are the areas of particular strength, the early modern of course, but also Ireland from Hiram Morgan on Tyrone’s Rebellion to John Cunningham on Connacht and Eamon Darcy on the Irish Rebellion of 1641; and in particular UK nineteenth- and early twentieth-century political and electoral history, from Paul Readman on Patriotism to Kathryn Rix on Electoral Politics; not to mention Jennifer Evans’s memorable illustrations in Aphrodisiacs.

From a personal point of view it has been immensely rewarding to work on this series, to work with many authors and with the staff at Boydell & Brewer, particularly Caroline Palmer and Vanda Ham. There are so many stories – the Israeli author who for some years sent me boxes of oranges at Christmas; the other one who sent a crate of wine (I deserved that);  GRE’s inimitable management of his editorial board amid the splendours of Clare College; cocktails with Caroline before the editorial board meetings.  I think Geoffrey would feel that the series had fulfilled his aims for it, though he would not have said so…


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